Everyday headlines shout loudly about professionals from the ranks of politics, government, religion, media, and business who have succeeded greatly in their chosen field of endeavor only to have their personal failures take them down. We have all looked on as one-by-one leaders from all walks of life have crashed and burned, resulting in public humiliation for the leader, their family, and their organizations.

Each of these leaders up to the crashing point, has had enough effective leadership skills to rise through the ranks of their chosen profession. They checked all the boxes of professionalism, charisma, intelligence, and talent. Looking from the outside they appear to be the whole package, full of strength, composure, and self-control. On the inside, though, they have cracks in their foundation, and like any structure, if there are cracks in the foundation, eventually it will crumble under its own weight.

Many years ago, I had a client who was just such a person. He was at the top of his professional game. He was working in an environment he loved, was highly respected, and had a family who adored him. From the outside everything looked perfect, but from the inside he was in the fight of his life, struggling with personal integrity in areas that eventually blew up on him in a very ugly and public way.

At his lowest point, in the course of one day, he lost his job, his family, and the respect of those around him. He was devastated. His journey back was a hard one, by anyone’s measure. He fought to restore his internal core foundation in very courageous ways. The result has been that after many years he and his family have been reunited and he is rebuilding the career and life he so publicly destroyed.

The problem he and others face is a failure of personal leadership. Leaders can create the foundations for their organizations, look and act the part, but somehow overlook the process of building their own Personal Leadership Foundation. According to Dr. Mark McCloskey – Program Director for Transformational Leadership at Bethel University, a key ingredient required to create a Personal Foundation for Transformational Leadership is virtue.

Without virtue, leaders will ultimately fail. So, what is virtue? It has many names: character, integrity, and inner strength to name a few from popular literature. Those with virtue encompass a sense of larger purpose, humility, wisdom, altruism, courage, and emotional maturity. Without these personal pillars our leadership is on shaky ground.

So as a leader, how do you shore up your Personal Leadership Foundation?

  1. Define your personal vision, values, and purpose– not just a 2-sentence statement, go deep. Ask yourself what your purpose is in life? What are your values and how do they impact your purpose and vision? Who are you impacting and why? What place, position or passion “calls” you? Then layout a vision – select a time horizon between 3 years – 20 years. What is it that you are doing now or will be doing and who are you doing it for/with? What difference is it making in your life and the life of others (personal and professional)? How are you acting differently because of this vision? This process can take weeks to complete and pages to articulate. Don’t be in a hurry.  The value is not in the time spent, but the journey.
  2. Articulate your vision into a set of life priorities and goals. Build out a clear actionable plan on how to actually implement your vision. Think about the gaps from where you are and where you want to be. Build in the steps to close those gaps in the form of articulated goals with a measurable timeframe. Prepare SMART goals. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.)
  3. Build personal development time into your schedule. This includes daily quiet time to reflect on your behavior and its impact on those around you.
    • Are you truly listening to other perspectives and points of view? Are you inclusive of diverse approaches and collaboration to bring other ideas in? Are you shutting others down or leaving them out? Who and what are you avoiding?
    • What are you doing to develop others? Are you developing your employees, co-workers and peers by advocating for them, caring about their personal needs, helping them develop? If you have subordinates, are you helping them achieve and advance to the next level organizationally, using strong conflict management and corrective action when needed? Are you delegating work to them that builds them up by stretching and strengthening their skillset? These are all acts of altruism and create a stronger and deeper character that requires courage.
    • Seek feedback and incorporate it into your reflection time. Use a third party if necessary to get honest, actionable improvement goals. This process is powerful and humbling, and can truly help any person with blind spots adjust before bad behaviors get out-of-hand and impact others’ perceptions of you or worse yet harm those around you.

True Long-lasting Leadership comes when we lead from the inside out.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and creating a Personal Leadership Foundation doesn’t happen overnight. These processes take time, but if a Personal Leadership Foundation is ignored because there isn’t time to reflect, or worse yet, we don’t want to see what is possibly hidden deep within ourselves, we are at risk of becoming a failure as a leader. Our failure may not be as public as those we see on the news, or the one I shared about my client, but if we don’t lead from the inside out, we will without a doubt, be kept from achieving our best as a leader.

What is your next step to creating your Personal Leadership Foundation?

At Kinetic Insights, our PathFinders are skilled in helping leaders unleash the greatness in themselves and in their organizations. Call or email us for a quick discussion that just might put you and your team on the path to significant change.

Karen Semon’s focus is customized team leadership and executive coaching, providing a blend of hands-on experience with a coaching methodology based on performance results for organizations and personal growth for individuals.